Volunteers at Pennsylvania Hospital Comfort Drug-Addicted Babies

Volunteers at Pennsylvania Hospital Comfort Drug-Addicted Babies

Volunteers at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, are cuddling drug-addicted babies in order to provide comfort as they go through opioid withdrawal.

Erie, like many areas throughout the United States, has also experienced a severe increase in opioid use within the past few years. In 2015, the city reports 59 overdose deaths in 2015, 95 in 2016, and 98 this year so far.

With the increase in opioid addiction, this also means an increase in opioid-addicted newborn babies. According to Lanette Erdman, nurse manager of the NICU and pediatrics at St. Vincent Hospital, 31 out of the 158 babies admitted to the NICU required neonatal abstinence syndrome treatment—one-fifth of the unit’s babies.

Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome experience the same withdrawal symptoms that adults have: sweating, shaking, vomiting, diarrhea and irritability. Drug-addicted babies are extremely fussy and easily overwhelmed, which is what makes the cuddling so important. Volunteers read, swaddle and slowly rock the babies to comfort them.

“A lot of these babies are unable, for instance, to control their limbs,” said Emily Hirsch, director of women’s services at UPMC Hamot, another Erie hospital which also has a baby cuddling program. “Anything we can do to contain the baby by swaddling them or holding them brings comfort to them.” UPMC Hamot treated 31 opioid-addicted babies last year, and 26 this year so far.

“We are seeing more and more every day,” said Erdman. “So many people’s lives have been touched by heroin addiction and narcotics addiction. It crosses all socioeconomic paths. It doesn’t matter where you live or who you are.”

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